top of page
Excerpt - Roots of Roswell

Read an excerpt below...

The Roots of Roswell

It was the last place Gia (let alone anyone) thought she’d ever find herself; but to survive and move on with her life, she had no other choice but to go through it.



Six Months Earlier…



     Even she had to admit that being out of Valley High School for almost thirty years, she could still turn heads. A size four, not one wrinkle, and no inclination: she was approaching fifty. She wore the latest styles, rivaling those half her age. Her crown-full of beautiful natural curls bounced on her head like miniature springs with every step she took. Gia was charismatic and had a bubbly personality to go along with her good looks. When she walked into any room, people took notice. And if you weren’t sure of yourself, her confidence alone could intimidate you. But Gia was clueless at the unwarranted attention she received wherever she went. A woman who’s always known what she wanted—well, at least that’s what she told herself her entire life—and how to get it, since the day she formed her first words.

     She was an accomplished public relations executive for a Fortune 500 company in the Atlanta area. A career she flourished in, although she was the wife of a local pastor. Not that being the wife of a pastor was a bad thing, but, juggling a full-time job and spearheading ministry and community charities—you could say, her plate was full. But Gia was in her element. She worked hard at keeping herself busy (a well-learned trait she picked up from her mother), amongst other things. Gia wasn't the typical pastor's wife either. She never played sheet music on the piano or sang hymns in the choir. Nor did she have the desire to host Tuesday afternoon tea parties with the ladies auxiliary, and she never wore a hat. You’d never catch her dead in one, except that one time she lost a bet to her husband. 

     Gia always hated the title First Lady and often wished the members of their congregation would stop calling her that. She thought it to be outdated and better reserved for, say, aristocrats or dignitaries. It never mattered to her if she ever spoke before a crowd and getting her to teach a midweek Bible study... that one, you could forget about. Gia always enjoyed working behind the scene. You would think with her beauty, the spotlight was hers to grab. But that was never her preference. What ignited Gia, however, was worshipping along with the praise team as they belted out bars of the latest contemporary songs.

     She’d never been in love with the name Gia growing up, but learned to embrace it as she got older (she loved the idea she was different that way). Gia always sought to be unlike anyone else. And as a young girl, she made it known that her toys and clothes had to be different than anyone else's, especially her friends. This made shopping torture for her mother. The reason she has a personal seamstress who makes her one-of-a-kind outfits. Even to this day, if she got wind of someone having the same thing she had, she would immediately return it to the store. As if keeping it an extra day was somehow taboo. I guess we all have our quirks... some of us more than others. When she was younger, she found out on her many trips to her second home (the library) the meaning of her name, which is God’s gracious gift. She got her name—which she jokingly said rolled off your tongue like someone shooing away a cat—from her mother; who said she heard it on a once in a lifetime trip to the beautiful hillside village of Collodi in Tuscany, Italy (while pregnant back in the early 60s) and vowed to one day use it to name her daughter.                                                   Gia’s twenty-fifth college reunion was right around the corner, and she was excited at the very thought of seeing her old college roommates and classmates she hadn’t seen in years. She would even have time to see her childhood friends—Lisa, Carla, and Casey—while there. How could she pass up the opportunity? Although, she was giddier about seeing her childhood friends than actually attending the reunion. They still get together for their annual girls' trip. Their sabbaticals have been a part of their yearly routine since the early 1990s after they graduated from college. Just think; she almost didn’t make it. Her husband insisted and told her it would be good for her to get out of the house. Get out of the house? But Gia was never home. She knew what he meant, though. They became empty-nesters when their youngest moved away to college, so what would it hurt to get away for one weekend? 

     She wanted her husband to come along, but he’d scheduled a week-long conference that same weekend. For Gia, it was only going to be a trip to catch up on old times with her college roommates and the girls, and time for some much-needed rest and relaxation. Not to mention, she was about to celebrate her early retirement and twenty-five years of marriage, so she needed the break. Once all the celebrating was over, she was looking forward to settling down and enjoying her second half of life. Little did she know it was going to be a weekend she'd never forget—a sinister experience that would thrust her into the national spotlight and impact her life forever.

Early on… Roswell, Georgia



     Gia's parents moved to Roswell, Georgia, (about 30 minutes north of Atlanta) in the early 1960s, at the height of the civil rights movement. At the time, Roswell was an affluent white community of almost 5,000 people. It had beautiful tree-lined streets and mountainous antebellum homes so large, they almost looked out of place in the small southern town. Roswell's claim to fame is that President Teddy Roosevelt's maternal family was one of the three founding families of the city. A brave move on her father's part, seeing as if Atlanta was only a few miles away, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was only stirring up trouble—so they said. Both their parents thought they were crazy for making such a foolish decision—leaving the comfort of Atlanta where Blacks were making a name for themselves and playing a big part in establishing a booming economy—to settle in a community where they could be harassed, hurt (or worse) killed. But moving to an unknown town during racial tensions didn't bother them one bit.


Born Gia Elise Bennett, on April 4, 1968, they said; her mother, who went into distress upon hearing of MLK's assassination, went into labor, giving birth to her later that night. She was the pride and joy of her mother and father. Some even said she was the saving grace of her parents, Campbell and Lee. He just hated that name and often wondered if his parents played a cruel joke on him for giving it to him. He preferred people call him Camp for short and would give you the evil eye if you dare call him anything other than that. Her mom, Lee, was a stunning, petite lady. When you saw her, you knew right away whom Gia got her good looks. Lee was intelligent beyond her years and was known as a child prodigy. She started college at 16, and could have easily become a medical doctor—something her father encouraged her to do—but settled on education at the prompting of her mother.

     Lee's mother had a skewed way of looking at the world—where a woman's place was concerned, that is—but you couldn't blame her. Because back then, the world had a skewed way of looking at women, especially Black women. I guess Lee couldn't take on her mother's antiquated views when dealing with her own daughter. For one, times had evolved... somewhat. And by the time Gia came along, women were becoming more liberated and started thinking for themselves, so Lee had to find other ways of manipulating Gia... subtle ways.

     Lee was the homecoming queen of 1959 at Spelman College (a black historic all-female college in Atlanta), where she hoped her daughter would attend one day. Her mother went to see the premiere of Gone With the Wind in Atlanta back in April 1940 in a colored theater, four months after the December premiere. The Loew's Grand Theatre in Atlanta, where the premiere took place, didn’t allow Blacks. As everyone knew, because of racist Jim Crow laws in the South, it was unlawful for Blacks and Whites to interact back then. Even the Academy Award-winning Black actress Hattie McDaniel, along with the other black cast members couldn’t attend any of the movie’s premieres. Despite the racial overtones of the movie, she fell in love with Scarlett O'Hara's character and even more so with the actress who played her—Vivien Leigh (whom Lee got her name from). But her mother changed the spelling. She didn’t want her family calling her uppity and all. Lee's mother would have named her Lena after the great Lena Horne, but decided on Lee instead because it had an air of mystery about it. Besides, it seemed as if every black girl across the nation born in the 1940s was being named Lena.     

       Camp and Lee married in the spring of 1960 (soon after Lee graduated from college) at the Fulton County Courthouse in downtown Atlanta. Camp never attended college. He always joked and said he didn't need to because his father taught him everything he needed to know about the family business from the time he started walking. Camp had a way of exaggerating things, which only made his gregarious personality larger than life, drawing people to him. Some would even say Camp didn’t have an enemy in this world. He was an imposing figure, although he wasn’t tall. But his girth reminded you of a department store Santa—jiggly belly and all. It was his infectious laugh, though, that made you put your guard down… when you realized he was all bark and no bite.

      The Bennetts were heavy into the civil rights movement and (despite both of their parents' reservations) had no qualms at all about moving to a white town. It was a secret to no one they came from a laundry list of civil rights pioneers, with Gia's aunt Sadie May being the original 'I'm not sitting in the back of the bus today' lady. She even had her case go to the Supreme Court. But because of politics, Sadie Mae never got the recognition she deserved. It never bothered her one bit. She lived a fulfilled life, got married, and raised three beautiful children. Long after she passed away, they made her story known to the public, even making it into a Hollywood movie. Everyone knew her family for their graciousness. They were never the ones to make a big fuss about anything. They always remembered what Grandma Bessie would say,... “Ain’t no need worrying, cause’ God knows and sees it all, and will make it right".

     Considering there weren't many Blacks in Roswell, the Bennetts were well received by their neighbors. Camp would say it was because of Lee's sweet potato pies and other delectable desserts she baked at Lee's Bakery. A little shop Lee opened on a whim because all her lady friends kept suggesting to her to sell her sweet treats to the public, which had everybody in town (including the mayor) salivating for her delicacies. She even decorated the little shop with such exquisite taste that all her customers thought they were in an outside cafe on the streets of Rue des Rosiers in Paris.